July 06, 2021

Books recommended by Bill Gates

American philanthropist Bill Gates is best known for his work at Microsoft; he built the foundations of one of the world’s most influential tech companies with childhood friend Paul Allen before going on to become the world’s richest man. But it wasn’t always plain sailing - Gates was a university dropout who ditched a career in law to pursue his dream as a software developer. As such, reading books played a crucial role in Gates’ early years, and it’s something that he has taken with him as a lifelong commitment.

His success in the tech world has seen him branch out into other fields, as Gates became a key investor in many healthcare and clean energy companies around the world. So inspiring is his dedication to self-education that we decided to make this list of some helpful books that Bill Gates himself recommends.

Business Adventures - John Brooks

On Uptime

Said to be Gates’ favourite book, Brooks explores some of the most influential business events of the last century, and compares businesses face-to-face so you don’t have to. 

We learn that careful and thoughtful planning trumps irrational behaviour, demonstrated by the 1962 ‘Flash Crash’ of the stock market. We also learn to look ahead and expect change - something that Ford didn’t do when launching the hugely unpopular Edsel.

Sapiens -Yuval Noah Harari

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Philosopher and intellectual, Harari, explores how we became the world’s most dominant species, by a long shot. Gates is keen to master healthcare and understand how the human body works, so it’s no wonder he cites this book.

Readers will learn that we as humans developed in three stages: cognitive - that’s things like language; agricultural - domesticating crops and herds; and scientific - the ability to increase knowledge. Today, money, religion, and empire all shape our global society, but such power comes at great cost. Harari ponders whether we have the knowledge and creativity to avoid self-extinction.

Moonwalking with Einstein - Joshua Foer

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Winner of the 2006 USA Memory Championship, freelance writer, and TED Talker, Foer, explores ways that we can improve our memory to enhance our lives. He claims that memory has become less important throughout history: our attention spans of goldfish contrast to a time that predates scripture. Socrates is said to have mocked writing for fear that it would make people less likely to remember what they had heard.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though; repetition and practice has proven key in a number of studies. Others have had success from chunking (splitting information into manageable chunks) and the ‘memory palace’ (visualising what it is that you need to remember).

The Better Angels of Our Nature - Steven Pinker

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Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, looks at our tendencies towards peace as a reason for the decline in violence and conflict.

While the media may be telling us differently, Pinker believes that the world is a safer place today than ever before. This is partly due to the Flynn effect, whereby the average IQ score rises by 3 points per decade. The printing press can also be attributed to a more peaceful world, as facts began to spread more widely.

The Ride of a Lifetime - Robert Iger

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Iger, former CEO of Disney, reflects on the successes and failures during his time at the multinational company. Success isn’t all about planning - coincidence plays a role, too. But something must feed that coincidence: networking, for example, could open up new opportunities.

Regardless of others’ negativities, Iger teaches us to explore all paths, even if they seem unattainable at first glance; these could mark a turning point for you or your company. Key to all of this though, is networking, networking, networking.

Factfulness - Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund

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With an inspiring desire to improve global healthcare and to focus on clean energy, it’s no surprise that Gates turned to this book to explore the world of fake news. Our tendency to want to see things in black and white is our downfall, and above all else is our engrained vision of ‘us and them’. Dividing the world geographically to determine its economic, demographic or psychological state is useless, so forget about East vs. West, developed vs. developing, or anglophones vs. non-anglophones.

Our primal fears have been lost, but we can hone back in on them. Don’t be alarmed at a shocking statistic, but instead, let it pique your interest and do your research. Remember, things don’t grow linearly: it’s not always as bad as you expect. Rationalise thoughts and decisions by inviting and embracing multiple perspectives.

How Not to Be Wrong - Jordan Ellenberg

On Uptime

Unsurprisingly, this book about figures is one of Gates’ favourite reads. Mathematician Ellenberg teaches us not to be afraid of the ‘m’ word. In fact, he highlights just how often we use mathematics: that is, daily in common sense tasks.

Ellenberg tells us to be wary of fake news, and reminds us that results can be tweaked, while unsuccessful studies don’t even make it to the public eye. While we are prone to focusing on the positives, we’re asked to consider both sides.

What If? - Randall Munroe

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Munroe explores life without the Sun; he entertains the idea that it might not be all that bad. He also investigates what it would take to wipe out the common cold, but concludes that regular quarantining would be enough for society to collapse.

This humorous book asks these, and many more questions, but in doing so, we understand why things are the way they are.

The Sixth Extinction - Elizabeth Kolbert

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Kolbert predicts that the human race’s legacy will be the mass extinctions that we caused. Pay attention, she says, and it’s apparent. Deforestation and the profound reshaping of natural habitats is happening at an alarming rate, global warming has caused potentially irreversible damage, and transportation is dismantling environments piece by piece.

It’s not too late to start mitigating these effects, though. Research, education and activism all have roles to play, but realising that the climate crisis is more than just a change in weather conditions is our first step.

Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker

On Uptime

Sleep forms one third of our lives, but busier days filled with blurred lines between work and home, and the infiltration of technology, are putting this in danger. A lack of sleep directly raises blood pressure which adversely affects many aspects of our lives, and at the moment we’re not getting enough of it. A build-up of waking hours also means we’re less likely to be in control of our fine motor skills and concentration.

But there is hope: increasing sunlight exposure and limiting substances like alcohol and nicotine are both doable things that we should start practicing today.


While these books may be from a wide array of topics, there’s an underlying theme that keeps Bill Gates returning for more. They all explore the human brain in an effort to understand how and why we do what we do.

To him, self-education is as much teaching oneself as it is learning about oneself.

To learn more about the key insights and actions from these books, and so many more, head over to the homepage of Uptime, or search for a topic, to begin a five-minute Hack.

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